India-China at the SCO Summit: Balancing Cooperation and Competition

The India-China meeting at the SCO summit underscores the delicate balance of competition and cooperation between the two nations. This summit provided a critical platform to address pressing issues such as the border dispute along the Line of Actual Control, economic collaboration, and regional stability. The summit represented a vital opportunity for India and China to engage constructively to resolve disputes, deepen economic cooperation and explore avenues to enhance trade relations

By Neeraj Singh Manhas

Opinion

The recent meeting between Indian Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit at Kazakhstan capital of Astana, has garnered significant attention, reflecting the complex dynamics between the two Asian giants. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was expected to attend this summit, but soon after being elected for the third term, he was invited by the G7 Summit in Italy, and since then, he has been busy with the parliament session.

ads

The SCO summit, held in the context of geopolitical tension and economic competition, provided a platform for India and China to engage in dialogue on various pressing issues. One of the primary topics of discussion was the ongoing border disputes at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Jaishankar outlined India’s priorities for resolving the border dispute, including respect for the LAC, and emphasised that “mutual respect, mutual sensitivity, and mutual interest” will continue to lead bilateral relations.

The border stand-off is in its fifth year, and the progress in resolving the disputes has remained slow since 2020, with both sides emphasising the need for continued diplomatic and military communication to prevent any escalation. This was the first meeting between Jaishankar and Wang in over a year, after a brief encounter on the margins of the Munich Security Conference in Germany in February 2023.

Economic Collaboration

Despite the geopolitical tensions, economic cooperation was another focal point of the discussion. India and China, being major players in the global economy, explored avenues to enhance trade relations. According to the Global Trade Research Initiative report, Chinese imports to India reached USD 100 billion in the fiscal year 2024, cementing China’s position as India’s largest trading partner, and the bilateral commerce between the two countries was USD 118.4 billion, with a heavy trade deficit, and India primarily depending on China for vital products such as telecom and smartphone parts, and pharmaceuticals. However, India’s push for reducing its trade deficit with China and promoting ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India) highlighted the competitive undertone in their economic interactions.

Jaishankar outlined India’s priorities for resolving the border dispute, including respect for the LAC, and emphasised that “mutual respect, mutual sensitivity, and mutual interest” will continue to lead bilateral relations. This was the first meeting between Jaishankar and Wang in over a year, after a brief encounter on the margins of the Munich Security Conference in Germany in February 2023

Regional Stability and Security

As prominent members of the SCO, India and China discussed regional stability and security, particularly concerning Afghanistan and Central Asia. Both countries acknowledged the importance of a stable Afghanistan for regional security and expressed willingness to collaborate on counter-terrorism initiatives. This collaboration is crucial for the SCO’s objective of promoting peace and stability in the region. Jaishankar and Wang concurred that the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) will convene a meeting soon. Jaishankar emphasised that the bilateral relationship is most effectively maintained by adhering to the three mutual principles. Although both countries completed their 70 years of ‘peaceful coexistence’ since the Panchsheel Agreement, which was signed in 1954, no sign of peaceful coexistence is relevant seeing the current situation at the LAC.

big bang

Implications for India

The ongoing border standoff between India and China may have significant implications for India if it remains unresolved. Militarily, the prolonged tension necessitates sustained high alert and increased defence expenditure, diverting resources from essential developmental projects. Economically, the standoff may disrupt trade, as China is a major trading partner, potentially leading to supply chain disruptions and increased costs for Indian businesses. Diplomatically, the unresolved conflict strains India’s relations with neighbouring countries and complicates its strategic position in regional and global politics. Domestically, the standoff will heighten nationalist sentiments, influencing political discourse and policy decisions. The persistent tension also impacts the broader regional stability in South Asia, affecting India’s efforts to maintain peace and foster cooperative relationships with neighbouring countries. Also, the border issue may drive India to strengthen alliances with global powers, seeking support and strategic partnerships to counterbalance China’s influence, thereby reshaping the geopolitical landscape.

As prominent members of the SCO, India and China discussed regional stability and security, particularly concerning Afghanistan and Central Asia. Both countries acknowledged the importance of a stable Afghanistan for regional security and expressed willingness to collaborate on counter-terrorism initiatives. This collaboration is crucial for the SCO’s objective of promoting peace and stability in the region

Implications for China

An unresolved border standoff with India carries multiple implications for China as well. Militarily, it necessitates continuous deployment of troops and resources along the disputed areas, potentially stretching China’s defence capabilities and increasing the risk of military skirmishes. Economically, the tension will disrupt the trade between the two countries, which could harm Chinese industries reliant on Indian markets and resources. Diplomatically, the standoff tarnishes China’s image as a regional power committed to peaceful resolution of conflicts and will lead to increased scrutiny and criticism from the international community. This unresolved conflict has pushed India closer to China’s strategic rivals, such as the United States and its allies, thereby complicating China’s broader geopolitical strategy in Asia. Domestically, prolonged tension with India may stir nationalistic fervour, affecting the Chinese government’s stability and policy-making. Moreover, the persistent border dispute could hinder China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by creating instability in a key region and complicating relationships with South Asian countries. Ultimately, the unresolved border issue poses a significant challenge to China’s aspirations of regional dominance and global influence.

huges

Future of India-China Relations

The future of India-China relations is poised to be shaped by a blend of cooperation and competition. Both nations are expected to continue diplomatic dialogues to manage their longstanding border disputes, striving to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Actual Control. Economic ties are expected to deepen despite existing trade imbalances, with both countries seeking to capitalise on mutual benefits in technology, infrastructure, and investment. On global platforms such as the SCO and BRICS, India and China will likely collaborate on issues such as climate change, sustainable development, and the reform of international institutions. However, strategic challenges will persist, as China’s growing influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region may lead to increased geopolitical rivalry. India is expected to balance its strategic interests by enhancing its partnerships with other major powers while engaging China in constructive dialogue. The future of India-China relations will depend on the ability of both nations to navigate these complexities, fostering a relationship that upholds the principles of peaceful coexistence while addressing contemporary challenges.

India and China will likely collaborate on various issues such as climate change, sustainable development, and the reform of international institutions. However, China’s growing influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region may lead to increased geopolitical rivalry. India is expected to balance its strategic interests by enhancing its partnerships with other major powers while engaging China in constructive dialogue

Conclusion

The India-China meeting at the SCO summit underscores the delicate balance of competition and cooperation between the two nations. This summit, set against the backdrop of geopolitical tension and economic interdependence, provided a critical platform for addressing pressing issues such as border disputes, economic collaboration, and regional stability. While significant challenges remain, particularly in terms of the unresolved border disputes along the Line of Actual Control, the dialogue at the SCO represents a vital opportunity for both countries to engage constructively. Economic cooperation, despite the competitive undertones, is expected to deepen, with both nations exploring avenues to enhance trade relations and reduce imbalances. Regional security discussions, especially concerning Afghanistan and Central Asia, highlight the shared interests of India and China in promoting peace and stability. The implications of these interactions are profound, influencing military, economic, and diplomatic strategies on both sides. The future of India-China relations will be shaped by their ability to navigate these complexities, fostering a relationship that upholds the principles of peaceful coexistence while addressing contemporary challenges. The outcomes of this engagement at the SCO summit will significantly impact the geopolitical and economic landscape of the region, emphasising the importance of sustained diplomatic efforts and multilateral cooperation in ensuring a stable and prosperous future.

-The writer is a Special Advisor for South Asia at the Parley Policy Initiative, Republic of Korea. He has authored and edited six books and has various research interests covering Sino-Indian border issues, transboundary rivers, water security, defen ce, and Indo-Pacific studies. He tweets @The_China_Chap. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda